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Theatrical and Musical Adventures from Aubervilliers and Asnières to Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily

July 27, 2023
bradspurgeon

Academy of the Unfulfilled in Palermo Flash Mob

Academy of the Unfulfilled in Palermo Flash Mob

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – I have been wrapped up in a whirlwind of theatrical and musical adventures over the past month that have been so many and varied that I have had not a single moment to write about them here, despite itching to do so every day. Now I am sitting high in the hills above Castellammare as I start these words, taking a break from setting down harmonies for the next song in a musical show that we will be performing at this Azienda Agricola Acquaviva this coming Sunday, 30 July, and I finally found a moment to get a few words down in the blog about these incredible experiences.

Brad Spurgeon as Einstein in TAC production

Brad Spurgeon as Einstein in TAC production

The first was my cameo role as Albert Einstein in TAC Teatro‘s next play, the work-in-progress tentatively titled “La Première Fois.” The show is in its early stages of creation, but TAC Teatro put on a show of the work-in-progress at its theater space in Aubervilliers at 164 rue Henri Barbusse. I loved creating this role with Ornella Bonventre directing, because I cannot imagine that many other wonderful true-life personalities to play than Einstein. And, surprise surprise, I discovered through the necessity of growing my hair and my moustache, that I am capable of growing a moustache that is a pretty damn convincing version of the mathematical genius’s moustache! (Now if only I discovered I could also emulate his mathematical genius.) In any case, the show went off very well, with the TAC Teatro actors demonstrating more than ever their diversity of talents, as the show is full of music, magic and illusion, along with some beautiful songs. My role is minor, opens the show at the moment, and will probably appear again later on.

TAC Teatro school performers take a bow at yearend show at Studio Théâtre of Asnières-sur-Seine

TAC Teatro school performers take a bow at yearend show at Studio Théâtre of Asnières-sur-Seine

The sad story there was that this was the last show that TAC Teatro performed in the space where it has been housed for the last two and a half years, since the middle of the Covid epidemic. The owners of the former warehouse decided they want to try to sell the lot on which it sits, and so they took it back from us, and the same day we handed over the keys, they had the space demolished so that no one got the idea of squatting it. In a sad, sad irony, while the rich owners wanted to demolish our space to keep squatters out, that same night during the riots that tore France apart after the police killed a 17-year-old for no reason, TAC Teatro’s new space for the coming season, in Asnières-sur-Seine was demolished, looted, burned down, by the rioters. So the coming season poses some challenges.

In the meantime, TAC Teatro also celebrated its yearend of performances of the students of the classes in Asnières, which took place in the 200-seat, magnificent Studio Théâtre. There, I was called in to do the job of MC, and I was given the opportunity to do this by playing a song between each performance of the classes. I matched the nature of each song with the play performance. The plays of the children were Peter Pan, the Addams Family and the Petits Chaperons Rouges; the adult class’s play was “The Bear,” by Chekhov. It was a fabulous festive evening of shows with a full house spectators and a great capping to a season of drama classes for TAC Teatro and its students.

Brad Spurgeon MCing the TAC Teatro yearend show

No sooner did we finish that event than we packed the car to go to our annual summer address in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, not far from Palermo. Here, this year, I started my first week participating in the great Chiringuito Jam session in Scopello, that I had discovered only last year, and which we learned was run by Ornella’s cousin, Michelangello Bologna. I again did a couple of songs with a complete band, and with Michelangello, who is a Michelangello of the harmonica in addition to the MC of the evening.Then, suddenly irresistibly, surprisingly, and synchronistically, after we had discovered that Castellammare del Golfo had been chosen as the location for a big crazy theater workshop by the illustrious Mario Biagini and his group called Accademia dell’Incompiuto – Academy of the Unfulfilled, we decided to take part. This workshop, or residency, lasts for the entire second two weeks of July, and in addition to consisting of working with Biagini’s troupe to create a final show – called “The Thirsty Ones” – for the 30th July, we also had two other performances of some of the work.

Teaser for the show of Accademia dell’Incompiuto – Academy of the Unfulfilled

Extraordinarily, one of those performances had been planned – without any input or prior knowledge from us – as taking place during the Wednesday night jam at Chiringuito! So for the second time in the month of July I ended up performing on the stage outside in Scopello, but now, I did first a performance of a couple of songs in the usual way with me on the guitar with other performers at the jam; then, second, I worked with the dozen or so actors and singers of the theater workshop performing the songs we had been working on, with their fabulous harmonies and many languages. I played guitar and filled in here and there with vocals.

I want to jump back a little and say why this serendipitous meeting of the Biagini group and Ornella and me was so surprising: We had met Biagini for the first time last year when we went to the Teatro Ridotto outside of Bologna, Italy in order to interview him for a project that Ornella and I are working on about some of the theater greats of the last 60 years. Biagini is known for having worked closely with the legendary intellectual figure of 20th century avant garde theater, Jerzy Grotowski. In fact, Grotowski, who died in 1999, had left Biagini and another man, Thomas Richards, in charge of the Grotowski Center in Pontedera, Italy – Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards – where Mario Biagini had worked since 1986.

Biagini and Richards ran the center until 2021, when they decided to go their own ways. Grotowski was one of the seminal figures of modern theater, and Biagini is a torchbearer of his world, along with Richards. Now this links into the next meeting, which happened a couple of months ago in Paris, when Ornella and I went to the Grotowski event at the Théâtre des Abbesses in Paris where Biagini was present to launch the latest edition that he edited of a translation of Grotowski’s theoretical – and other – writings that has just been published in French. It is a fabulous collection of the theorist’s work, including the writings that would eventually make up his famous and influential “Towards a Poor Theater” book that was first published by the Odin Teatret publisher and founder, Eugenio Barba. (Whom I have written about a few times here.

We also made a connection at one remove with Biagini at the beginning of April this year, when a group that he has directed that came out of Teatro Ridotto, also took part in the annual international residency called Finestres – see my previous post! – that Teatro Ridotto has put on for decades in Italy and that TAC hosted this year in Aubervilliers at the beginning of April. I am speaking about the fantastic Collettivo Hospites, who, incidentally, just put up a video of their memories of that week of activities.

FINESTRE sur le jeune théâtre from Collettivo Hospites

So it was quite amazing to discover that Biagini was holding this workshop in Ornella’s home town in Sicily during our stay here. And we joined in. The performance at Chiringuito was then followed by a flash mob performance a few days later in the streets of downtown Palermo. Here again we sang our songs, and I played guitar along with the musical anchor of the work, Viviana Marino on her classical guitar. There was a film production company on hand in Palermo, so you can see the work of this company, Ponte di Archimede Produzioni, in the teaser for Sunday’s show that I posted above. The teaser was also filmed partly on location at the base in the hills above Castellammare, where we are preparing and will put on the show, and where I am sitting writing these words. You only catch a tiny glimpse of me playing in Palermo, and a bit of Ornella and her daughter, Morgana, are also visible momentarily!

Segesta temple burning July 2023

Segesta temple burning July 2023

I hope to have more videos and photos to follow, but this is what I have at the moment. Until then, if you can make it to the show on Sunday, I understand the airport in Palermo is open again…. Oh, yes, that’s another bit of news to follow up with: After the burning down of TAC’s new space in Asnières and the demolition of the old space in Aubervilliers, the 2,000 year old theater in Segesta, next to Castellammare del Golfo, and the neighboring 2,000 year old temple were both engulfed in flames in recent days during the catastrophic fires that we have been experiencing during the massive heatwave that lifted temperatures to well above 40 degrees celsius. A couple of years ago, TAC had been in negotiations to put on a performance on that ancient stage. The flames are following us from town to town, country to country!

FINESTRE: An Extraordinary Week of International Theater Exchange @ TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers

April 17, 2023
bradspurgeon

Workout at Finestre

Workout at Finestre

AUBERVILLIERS, France – I am still recovering 10 days later from an amazing week of work at TAC Teatro (3-7 April), where Ornella Bonventre and her company met with nine other companies or theater individuals from around the world to exchange their practices and put on a final show for the public. Finestre means “window” in Italian, and the second part of the name of this annual meeting is: “On the Young Theater:” Finestre Sul Giovane Teatro. The meeting has been held for the last 14 years at the Teatro Ridotto in Bologna, Italy, by Lina Della Rocca, the director, and usually involved only Italian companies. After Ornella and Lina met last May, they decided to hold the meeting in France this year, and for the first time make it an international festival. It was a huge amount of organizational work for Ornella and TAC Teatro, but with the support of the city of Aubervilliers, she pulled it off. What a week! What discoveries! Oh, yeah, and what a lack of sleep! But all worth it.

There were more than 30 performers from all around the world, and my job was to film and photograph the whole thing for TAC Teatro, and eventually I will make a little documentary out of the more than 1,000 files I accumulated (film, sound and photos) over the five days of the meeting. First, let me note the companies and people present in addition to TAC and Teatro Ridotto:

dinner at finestre

dinner at finestre

  • Filo dei Venti (ITA/BRA/SPA)
  • Teatro dei Servi Disobbedienti (ITA)
  • Merida Urquia (COL)
  • Collettivo Hospites (ITA)
  • Prof. Roberto Murphy, Paulo José da Silva e Bruna Anita Hennings (BRA)
  • Miguel Jerez Lopez (SPA)
  • Rebeka Guerrero (SPA)
  • The ItinerAnts (ENG)
  • Erika Montoya (SPA)

  • We were blessed by the city of Aubervilliers to have been given the use of the Espace Renaudie as a workspace all day long throughout the week, and then we dined and also performed or rehearsed at TAC Teatro’s space, also located in Aubervilliers. The artists stayed in either hotel rooms provided by Aubervilliers, or at the homes of volunteer families of Aubervilliers that are in the habit of working together to house visitors during events in the city. What a great collaboration between the city and the companies.

    Ornella Bonventre (from back) directing work at Finestre

    Ornella Bonventre (from back) directing work at Finestre

    Teatro Ridotto has existed for 40 years this year, and is recognized as one of the leaders during that time in Italy in the so-called “third theater” movement. (The third theater “is a kind of theatre made by groups that create their own tradition, their main goal is to exist, resist, not trying to belong to the established theatre. Their own existence is resistance. They might work with ritual, politics, in alternative spaces like schools or prisons.” – Andrea Copeliovitch.)

    There was a certain leap of faith required from all participants involved in this first ever week of the event to be held outside Italy, but with Ornella’s TAC Teatro making great headway internationally and in planning events in and around Aubervilliers, Paris and elsewhere, as well as the strong reputation of Lina Della Rocca and her renown for holding this annual event, the whole thing ran without a hitch.

    Lina Della Rocca teaches at Finestre

    Lina Della Rocca teaches at Finestre

    Throughout the week the companies worked together showing their various methods of actor training, and then they worked as a complete group on a flash mob show, thanks to the suggestion of Ornella who desperately wanted to share as much as possible of the gathering with the community. Then the whole thing was again opened to the community with a final show of excerpts from the current work of each of the visiting companies, which was put on at the Espace Renaudie in a free performance for the public.

    On the first Tuesday evening TAC Teatro also put on a performance of its latest show, Ajamola, for all of the participants at its home theater space, and then Merida Urquia put on her show that was directed by one of the great actors of Odine Teatret, and ItinerAnts gave a taste of its famous “Tea Lady” performance, by Cinzia Ciaramicoli.

    group shot at finestre

    group shot at finestre

    All in all, the drawing together of more than 30 people from around the world with at one point five or six directors collaborating on a performance, was an exceptional example of how despite everyone having their own vision and ego, we can all work together when the goals are clearly defined and all leading to a show. It was quite breathtaking for me with the camera, I can assure you! And I don’t even want to mention the babel of four or five different languages being spoken every minute of the week!

    painting exercise at Finestre

    painting exercise at Finestre

    And the biggest proof of success is that Ornella and TAC Teatro, at least for their part (I can’t speak for the other guests), are already hungry to try to stage another such international event as soon as possible!

    card exercise at Finestre

    card exercise at Finestre

    PS: I made tons of videos over the week, but they cannot be posted raw, I need to edit them. So I will eventually post another blog item in the coming weeks with an edited video of some of the high moments of the event. The flash mob performance in the streets of Aubervilliers was definitely one of the high moments, and I got some fabulous footage of it. There were some wonderful moments in the final show of each company’s “personal” productions. Not to be missed!

    Lina Della Rocca and Ornella Bonventre at the end of Finestre

    Lina Della Rocca and Ornella Bonventre at the end of Finestre

    A TAC Teatro Report Part I: At the Théâtre du Soleil with Odin Teatret, then at the Espace Renaudie for the film of Eugenio Barba

    November 12, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Marine and Bruno prepare at Theatre du Soleil

    Marine and Bruno prepare at Theatre du Soleil

    PARIS – I wanted to do two quick reports, one today, the other maybe tomorrow, just to round up the amazing week with TAC Teatro. It started last Monday with the long-awaited double header starting at 8AM at Paris’s legendary Théâtre du Soleil in the Cartoucherie with the equally legendary Odin Teatret, then Monday evening at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers, where we screened my interview/documentary film with Eugenio Barba, the founder of Odin Teatret.

    The morning event hinged around a couple of high moments: a conference given by Odin Teatret actor Julia Varley on the theme of the actor’s process of creation and training; which was followed by the actors of TAC Teatro performing excerpts from their latest show, Ajamola, for the spectators and for Eugenio Barba and Julia Varley.

    Odin and TAC people at Theatre du Soleil

    Odin and TAC people at Theatre du Soleil

    The conference was “prefaced” by introductions given by Ornella Bonventre, founding director of TAC Teatro, and by Raluca Mocan, a Romanian lecturer at a French university who is also a specialist on Odin Teatret. Varley’s conference was fabulous, starting with her echoing almost word-for-word what I’ve heard Ornella herself saying so often: As an actor she considers herself an artisan, not an artist. They build things – characters, plays, shows, etc., as an artisan might build a chair.

    all Ajamola actors at Theatre du Soleil

    all Ajamola actors at Theatre du Soleil

    Varley also spoke of the importance of the actual performance in unforgettable terms: Once you are on stage it is “not a democracy.” In other words, perhaps the actor can try all sorts of strange things during training and creation, but the performance is a dictator that requires the actors to follow the score laid out in advance and stay entirely inside the established character. I have certainly over-simplified that point, but that’s the rough idea.

    TAC Teatro performing the Cooley’s Reel moment of Ajamola

    After Varley’s grand performance as a lecturer, I felt a little worried about how the actors of TAC Teatro might be able to jump into their own characters from Ajamola and put on a convincing short excerpt from the show within confines that were far from anything even close to their usual performance space. As you can see from the video, it was a tight, obstructed space, where the actors did a fabulous job of reconstructing moments from the show – with Eugenio Barba, Julia Varley and others watching on. Ornella had planned this excerpt from the show as an homage to Odin Teatret, and there was every indication that it succeeded. Thanks to the actors, who did manage to get right into character and negotiate the space beautifully.

    Bruno and Marine preparing the performance of Ajamola in the Théâtre du Soleil foyer

    From the Théâtre du Soleil to the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers for the Screening of Eugenio Barba film

    Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    In the evening, we moved on for the second part of the Odin tribute to the municipal theatre in Aubervilliers called l’Espace Renaudie, for which TAC was supported by the municipality of Aubervilliers. Here we showed in public for the first time the TAC-produced film, an interview with Eugenio Barba, which is a film in which I have a half-hour long interview with Barba about his life and the Odin Teatret. I conducted the interview, Ornella filmed it, and I did the editing, splicing in all sort of documents, photos and films from Odin’s own archive, dating back to the 1960s.

    It was a moment of great pride and wonder on my part to see the film on the big screen shown in front of a public in a 180-seat municipal theatre. Judging by the roundtable discussion that we then had following the film, it was a success. The roundtable was the chance to give all participants the floor to speak about the film, Odin and theatre in general. It went on for almost two hours.

    Another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    Another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    I will return with the report soon of the production of Ajamola itself in this same theatre in Aubervilliers the next day – with photos and videos….

    Ornella, Oscar and me arriving at the Cartoucherie at 8AM

    And another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    And another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie


    PS: By the way, Odin Teatret is currently present at the Théâtre du Soleil in order to show their latest play: Thebes au Temps de la fièvre jaune, which you can attend until the 19 November 2022, and buy tickets by clicking on this sentence I and the members of TAC Teatro will be attending all together as a company on 15 November, in case you want to join us!

    From Ornella in French: L’Odin jouera Thèbes jusqu’au 19, nous du TAC y allons le mardi 15, ceux qui veulent se joindre à nous sont les bienvenus (envoyez-moi un message). Toutes les informations ci-dessous.

    Big Day Soon in Paris and Aubervilliers: Conference with Julia Varley of Odin Teatret and Premiere of TAC’s Documentary with Legendary Director Eugenio Barba

    October 12, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Poster for the Barba film event.

    Poster for the Barba film event.

    PARIS – I’m already bubbling over with excitement about the premiere of my short, 30-minute, documentary/interview film with one of the giants of world theater of the last 60 years. I am talking about the work I did with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro – of which I am a company member since 2017 – and our interview with Eugenio Barba, founding director of the Odin Teatret of Denmark. The film will be screened next month, on 7 November, in the Espace Renaudie, a municipal theater in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris. It is part of a double-bill of activities with members of the Odin Teatret and TAC, beginning in the morning at the iconic Théâtre du Soleil of Paris.

    That’s a lot of stuff to pack into your brain in the first paragraph, so let me backtrack now a little: Eugenio Barba is an Italian-born director and writer who after working with the Polish theater master Jerzy Grotowski in the early 1960s, went on to create Odin Teatret – based in Holstebro, Denmark – and to become one of the great theater theorists of our times, as well as the founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology. Odin has always been at the forefront of avant garde theater in the world, innovating in the area of what is often called “physical theater,” as it speaks as much, or more, through the movements of the body as it does through text. And even the spoken word itself – or the music – is considered a kind of physical action in the performance.

    The company was founded in 1964, and some of the actors that still make up the company have been with it since the 1970s, others for several decades. They are coming to Paris next month to put on their latest show, “Thèbes au Temps de la Fièvre Jaune,” at the Théâtre du Soleil. (The latter is another of the world’s great avant-garde theatrical institutions, also founded in 1964 and still directed by Ariane Mnouchkine.)

    The morning event with Julia Varley.

    The morning event with Julia Varley.

    The Odin show will run there from 8 to 19 November, and TAC Teatro, in collaboration with ARTA, Association de Recherche de Tradition de l’Acteur, and the Aubervilliers mayor’s office organized two events that will take place the day before the show opens, ie, on the Monday 7th November at 10AM in the Théâtre du Soleil, and the film premiere at the Espace Renaudie starting at 18PM, with, following the film, a roundtable discussion. The event starts by featuring especially the intervention of Julia Varley, one of the Odin Teatret actors, who will give a conference about the process of training and creation for the actor in the morning part of the program at the Théâtre du Soleil. Ornella will take part in that too, along with Raluca Mocan, a theater expert and member of the Husserl Archives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure.

    There will also be a hommage to Odin Teatret in the form of live performance extracts from TAC Teatro’s latest show, AJAMOLA by the actors of the company.

    I am very pleased to be able to show this documentary interview film that I did with Eugenio Barba the last time Odin Teatret visited Paris, with their previous show, called, “L’Arbre.” The interview was conducted outside at the Cartoucherie, and Ornella filmed it – and organized it – and also intervened with some of the most interesting questions – when I think I took over the camera briefly! It was a wide-ranging interview with Barba covering his life story, his theories of theater, the history of theater and of Odin, and even comments about the state of Paris’s theater landscape in general. It also contains a lot of footage and photos of Odin’s work through the decades.

    Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.

    Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.


    Taking place at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers starting at 18PM, the screening is free of charge, and there are about 200 seats in the theater. So if you want to come, best to reserve in advance at tac.teatro@gmail.com or by telephone at: 06 14 06 92 23

    By the way, this is the same location where the full production of AJAMOLA will be performed several times this year and next – so if you like what you see in the performance extracts at the event at the Théâtre du Soleil…don’t hesitate to book for the show too!

    Peter Brook and Marcello Magni: Reflections on the Loss of Two Titans of World Theater in Two Months

    September 20, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Marcello Magni. Photo credit: © Pascal Gely

    Marcello Magni. Photo credit: © Pascal Gely

    Peter Brook

    Peter Brook

    PARIS – Just a quick note, a thought, a loss and a regret. As if it wasn’t enough to learn of the death of Peter Brook in early July, yesterday brought the news of the death of Marcello Magni, one of Brook’s fetish actors. I am drawn to mention it on the blog because it was just over two and a half years ago that I did a post on this blog in which both featured: The Unique Vision of Peter Brook and Shakespeare’s Temptest Work-in-Progress at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris. The focus was on Brook, of course, so while I did speak about Marcello Magni’s wonderful contribution on stage, I did not mention the long talk we had after the show with the Italian, who died over the weekend at the age of 63.

    In reading through the various obituaries of this immensely talented actor, one thing I am not picking up from them is just how immense a man Marcello Magni seemed to be. As I said in my post in February 2020, despite living most of my adult life in Paris I had never made it to the Bouffes du Nord theater to see a Peter Brook production. When I did get to see it, and Peter Brook himself, I regretted the opportunities I had missed. But I suddenly saw vistas of possibilities to come.

    Brook and actors - Magni's arms are raised - taking a bow Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Brook and actors – Magni’s arms are raised – taking a bow Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Not only that night did Ornella and I see a great demonstration of work of Brook’s “Tempest” – with Magni playing Ariel – but after the show we said hello to – very briefly – Peter Brook, and then we met several of the actors in the theater’s lobby, and discussed theater with them. The one we found the most interesting, friendly, simple and engaging was Marcello Magni. We actually had no idea of quite who we were talking with, except that he was a brilliant Ariel, a regular Peter Brook actor, and that we had been impressed with his work onstage in the role, as well as during the demonstration of warm-up techniques for the actors that he showed the spectators.

    In the simplest sort of matter-of-fact conversation we might have with anyone, we spoke about the life of an actor in Paris, Italy, the UK, etc., as he and Ornella as two Italian theater people living out of Italy might do. He told us he had been in the UK for some 40 years, but before that he had studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, etc. It sounded like any aspiring actor Ornella might meet looking for a first job in TAC Teatro – although he was certainly not looking for work!


    Marcello Magni and his wife Kathryn Hunter earlier this year

    Only later did we find his history working with Peter Brook and the many roles in theater he had been involved in, and his co-founding of the Complicité theater company, etc. A real pillar of the the theater world on the level of the working actor…. Not a master innovating director like Brook himself, of course. But an extraordinarily talented and heavily occupied actor involved in many different areas – including some interesting television and film roles.

    We left our little meeting feeling, nevertheless, as if we had opened a door to meeting someone whom we could relate to and who shared, above all, Ornella’s conception of what theater and the life in the theater is all about. (My own involvement being very limited.) As this meeting had happened just as the Covid pandemic was beginning to take hold – in fact, a few weeks later Ornella would have to cancel TAC Teatro’s own “demonstration of work” on the show it is now putting on – Ajamola – and any dreams we might have had of continuing to attend Peter Brook shows at the Bouffes du Nord, or trying to make contact with any actors linked with any other theater companies, like Complicité, had all to be put on hold.

    Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle - Magni with back turned in foreground - after the show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle – Magni with back turned in foreground – after the show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    That is why, now, after a little more than two years of near hibernation due to the pandemic – two years of putting many things on hold – that momentary meeting and feeling of hope in the way of great shows and theater-moments-to-come through the world of Peter Brook or Marcello Magni feels so suddenly, abruptly and cruelly at an end. There they were just yesterday in our minds and standing before us, and now, a little more than two and a half years later (but years that barely existed due to Covid) and both are gone. It feels a half century of history and lifestyle – theaterstyle? – has departed with them.

    That is the reason I felt compelled to write this blog entry today: DO NOT WAIT! Do not put off until tomorrow what wonderful thing you want to do. All the clichés about life being too short are true, and that is why they are there: Within the blink of an eye all we know and dream of doing will go, disappear with the passage of time. While we already knew that Peter Brook, on the verge of his 95th birthday at that time (he died at 97), was not likely going to be around that much longer, we could not imagine for a moment that the seemingly healthy and full-of-life Marcello Magni would be gone so soon. We must all live as if none of us has a moment to spare.

    Sundance on a Bunker in Sicily with Compagnia Ordinesparso – or Physical Theater at 4:40 AM

    August 15, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily.  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – There are few things I dislike more in life than getting out of bed for the day at 4:40 AM. Especially after going to bed at 1:40 AM (due to the birthday party of a 1-year-old). But the offer to join up with an Italian theater company to put on a ritual performance along with the rising of the sun above the Mediterranean Sea on the top of a World War II bunker overlooking some craggy cliffs at the Fossa Dello Stinco near Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily was just too great to resist. It was the same for Ornella Bonventre, and so it was that we joined Giovanni Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso at sunrise and integrated his troupe for a 40-minute or so piece of physical theater, with a live soundtrack of drums and baritone saxophone. And while I may still be “jet-lagged” from the experience a day later as I write these words, I feel blessed to have been able to take part.
    Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso.  Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba

    Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba


    The whole thing did not happen just overnight, of course. (No pun intended.) Rather, Ornella, as the director of TAC Teatro, and a native of Castellammare del Golfo, had learned from her friend, a local filmmaker and photographer, Claudio Colomba, that Berretta was in town and doing a theater lab and a few performances. Ornella had also crossed paths with Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso a few times in the past, so last week we went to watch one of their street performances, in one of the main boulevards of Castellammare. That took place during the heat of the night, with a couple of actors on a balcony above the boulevard, and the others in the street below, and it was quite impressive to see and hear.

    Preparing at the Apollo theater in Castellammare del Golfo with Giovanni Berretta

    We spoke to Berretta afterwards, and he invited us to take part in this performance on the morning of the day leading to the midnight celebration of Ferragosto, the Assumption of Mary religious holiday. If we accepted, we would have to go to one day of the workshop, the day before, the write a score to integrate the performance. This we did with great pleasure on Saturday evening, and it was my first time on the small, but fabulous stage of the main local theater, the Apollo, which is located in the center of Castellammare.

    Ferragosto Bunker Show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    Ferragosto Bunker Show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    There, much to my great fear of failure due to a horrendous tendonitis in my left arm, Giovanni simply ignored my plea that I was entirely incapable of any kind of physical stuff and would be better off just playing my guitar and singing. But with the help of my hugely gifted partner, Ornella Bonventre, taking the heavier load of responsibility for the movements – despite doctor’s orders against straining her recuperating knee injury – we managed, through Giovanni’s gentle and precise direction, to come up with a score and integrate the group.

    The group was made up of actors part of Compagnia Ordinesparso, as well as a few local amateurs who joined in as a theater activity, upon invitation by the event, which has some support from the local mayor’s office. Giovanni provided both the direction, as well as being the anchor of the performance, reciting texts to the sound of the musicians’ soundtrack. It was very impressive hearing the baritone sax, played by Tommaso Miranda, and drums, played by Domenico Sabella, at dawn; and the sound reminded me of a cross between the mix of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as a duo, and some of the later work of Tom Waits!

    another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    There was a third major partner here that I have not mentioned yet, but they came in during the final stage, which was the performance itself at just after 6 AM. This was the group of about 50 hikers who were led by the local exploring association called, CAI Castellammare del Golfo. (The letters stand for: Club Alpino Italiano. They explore local mountains, caves, seashore, forests etc.) Ornella and I and TAC Teatro had put on a performance last year with and for this same hiking organization, but then it was to celebrate the setting sun! (Which is much more naturally to my taste, as a late riser.)

    So it was that arising at 4:40 AM, we prepared ourselves and met the other actors and musicians at 5:15 close to the staging point, before heading on in several cars through the scrub vegetation at the seaside, and arrived at about 5:45 at the World War II bunker at the Fossa Dello Stinco. There the musicians set up the drums, took out the sax, warmed up; and so did the actors and Giovanni. We found our points of reference, spent some time figuring out how to mount the bunker – no easy thing, and in the end Giovanni himself lifted most of us up there – and we all warmed up too.

    Ornella Bonventre on stage at the Apollo theater preparing for the show in Castellammare

    We took our positions and waited until close to 6:15 or so – the sunrise was set for 6:20, according to my phone – the spectators began to arrive and placed themselves on the stones, rocks and vegetation around the performance area. And then began Giovanni’s recitations, the other actors’ movements, dance and contortions, and finally Ornella and I mounted the top of the bunker and did our part.

    Giovanni Berretta

    Giovanni Berretta


    musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    The patient and talented director Giovanni had instructed me that my movements were to be a kind of action that reacted to Ornella’s movements, and her movements were that of the wind. Standing atop the bunker with the real wind gently blowing all around me, with a camera equipped drone hovering above, and with Claudio moving about in his various positions filming and photographing, with the saxophone and drums beating, and the sun rising mostly over my left shoulder as I looked at the rising hills and cliffs around me, the whole thing was a little bit like a natural religious experience and I had entirely forgotten the tendonitis in my left arm and shoulder!

    Only once it was finished did I realise that I knew several people in the audience both from last year’s event with TAC Teatro and from the organizers of the hike. It was a gentle and warm descent. (Although suddenly feared my shoulder pain as Giovanni had to lift me down the bunker back to hard earth!)

    the sea and sun perspective of the show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    the sea and sun perspective of the show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    My only regret during the experience was my inability to really be seeing all the details of how Ornella’s spectacular dance, as well as that of the other actors, must have appeared to the audience. I was part of the show, but with Ornella as my solid underpinning guide, it was a shoe-in there too…. Oh, and I am hoping that I will be able to see what Claudio eventually does with the film of the event, and I hope I will be able to put up a link to that on the blog soon!

    Happy Ferragosto!

    Panoramic of the performance area upon arrival

    Unloading the drums upon arrival to the bunker area

    Winding down moments after the sunrise performance ended

    Performing For and as Multitudes for and at TAC Teatro

    June 28, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Brad and Peter under the spotlight

    Brad and Peter under the spotlight

    Asnières-sur-Seine, France – Now, if that headline is not an exaggeration, I don’t know what is. But at the same time, I had many roles to play yesterday in TAC Teatro’s year-end celebration of theater in Asnières-sur-Seine, outside Paris. I wanted to stamp this down here on the blog for several reasons: one is that I wanted to explain why there have been so few posts of late, the other is to celebrate yesterday’s achievements and fun, and finally, to get back in the groove of posting, period!

    I do hope that readers of this blog have been missing my posts as much as I have missed posting them. But I have been working like hell on several projects that have perturbed all of this: Most of my time has been involved in working on another book, which is supposed to be published by the end of the year; as well as working for the last two months writing in a temporary, limited-time gig for the United Nations. Someday I might go further into that, but not now.

    The point is, I have been occupied so full-time that I have barely had moments in the day to pick up my guitar, let alone to attend open mics. But one thing was certain: I had to help out Ornella Bonventre and TAC Teatro at the latest year-end gig at the Petit Theatre in the building of the Théâtre Armande Béjart in Asnières-sur-Seine. This year I had not one, but three roles to play.

    As with last year, I MC’d the show with my ventriloquial figure, Peter McCabe. Unlike last year, someone captured some photos of these bits. So I am happy to have those to show on the blog. Unlike last year, I also played a role in one of the plays…or rather, in a way, two of the plays….

    Brad as Chasuble with Ornella Bonventre and some of the children of TAC Teatro

    Brad as Chasuble with Ornella Bonventre and some of the children of TAC Teatro

    I played Chasuble in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde, but in the French translation. That was tough! Or rather, I would have preferred to do it in English, but I had a great time playing the character! I felt a touch of destiny as my great, great, or maybe even another great, uncle, was a famous preacher, a precursor to Billy Graham, named Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Of course, Chasuble is not exactly a flattering representative of the profession.

    In the end, we did not perform the whole play, but just excerpts. I did this with the adult members of the TAC acting courses.

    Peter McCabe, through me somehow, had been selected by the adolescent students to be the central figure – yes, good choice of words – in the play that they wrote themselves, called, “Ce N’est pas une Comédie Romantique.” I thought that was a brilliant title, and I am sure it will be stolen! The English translation is, of course, simple: “This is not a romantic comedy.”

    Peter McCabe on stage in the ados show at TAC Teatro

    Peter McCabe on stage in the ados show at TAC Teatro

    Peter appeared alone in this show, although I had to wear Chasuble’s hat to cover myself and sit behind the chairs where sat Peter most of the time in order for me to whisper to him his lines, as he did not do the slightest effort towards memorisation.

    It was a fabulously successful evening, with more than 160 people present. And Ornella, who deserves every bit of praise for her success for this event, was also praised by the unexpected appearance of the deputy mayor of Asnières who showed up to launch the event. This was a fine moment of confirmation of all of Ornella’s work, as this deputy mayor was none other than Marie-Do Aeschlimann, the wife of the mayor, Manuel Aeschlimann, and herself in charge of childhood and education in the town. Only the week before this, she had run in the second round of the legislative elections.

    Brad and Peter with some Audience at TAC performance

    Brad and Peter with some Audience at TAC performance

    From all we heard and saw, the day was a great success, and I look forward to participating again next year! With Peter, of course.

    And I do hope to have some news soon from the open mics, and particularly from the success encountered by at least a couple of the bands or performers I met through my period of playing in the open mics around the world. There are a couple of recent success stories that I have been planning to write about for months, but keep getting side-tracked by the other work mentioned at the start of this post.

    Brad wondering how to deal with the kids beside Ornella Bonventre at TAC Teatro show

    Brad wondering how to deal with the kids beside Ornella Bonventre at TAC Teatro show

    “Ajamola” Returns to the Stage With a More Powerful Message Than Ever

    March 30, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ajamola poster

    Ajamola poster

    AUBERVILLIERS, France – When Ornella Bonventre and the actors of her TAC Teatro company began the creation of their new show in the fall of 2019, they had no idea what disasters – both human-made and natural – were about to befall the world. And yet, as if predicting the future, themes of the coming cataclysms began immediately to define the show: A look at the lives of refugees, a question about what happens when your life changes forever in one sudden fell-swoop, and even, the arrival in February of the costumes of the “dream constructors” of the show in the form of doctors’ white blouses. And with the white blouses, surgical masks. Everyone joked about what they might be able to do with surgical masks. Within months, of course, and then within years, we have been hit hard in our world by many of the themes of the show.

    After putting on several performances of the show last fall, TAC Teatro took a break from performance after one of the actors left, and the show has now returned with a new actor – Oscar Paille – and several new and changed and developed moments of pure delight. Every time I see this show – and I have now seen it at least 10 times live – I feel like I am watching a play of Shakespearian dimensions. Not the tragedies, more something like “The Tempest” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And fabulously, while Shakespeare is all about the text, “Ajamola” is all about the actions…and yet the text that there is excels in many spots with a beauty that touches me every time, especially that soliloquy that begins: “Goutte qui tombe sur le rebord de la fenêtre, pourrait-tu faire moins de bruit; il y a ici des gens qui ont besoin de dormir. Pas nous…” (Translation: “Drop that falls on the windowsill, could you make less noise; there are people here who need to sleep. Not us….”)

    Ajamola TAC Teatro Trailer

    I must confess, of course, that I was involved in the beginning as both an actor and a writer of some small part of the text – not that above quoted line that comes from Ornella – but the play was ultimately a work containing contributions by all of the actors. And that is what it remains. A physical theatre show written through what the French call “écriture de plateau,” along with a very hefty and healthy job of direction by Ornella. (I dropped out of any involvement long ago, but I have attended all the performances.)

    I am writing this blog item now simply to announce that the piece is back on stage, and set to run every Thursday night between now and the end of June – French school holidays excepted – at 9PM. And you should reserve in advance before going.

    I am also writing this because I wanted to post some of the photos I took at the performance last week, as well as the teaser that I made for the show. Hope to see lots of readers of this blog present! It’s an experience not to be forgotten!

    PS: Only now in finishing this post do I see that my last post was also about “Ajamola!” SHAME on me. I hope soon to be bringing more news, diversity in posts, and updating my open mic guides! For a full description of “Ajamola” read the bottom of the previous post!!!

    Ajamola Opening ©Brad Spurgeon

    Ajamola Opening ©Brad Spurgeon

    Ajamola ©Brad Spurgeon

    Ajamola ©Brad Spurgeon

    Ajamola ©Brad Spurgeon

    Ajamola ©Brad Spurgeon

    Three Shows and a Theater Breaking on Through to the Other Side During a Pandemic

    February 4, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ajamola

    Ajamola

    PARIS – I’ve spoken a little about how musicians have survived and challenged the coronavirus pandemic over the last couple of years, but I have barely touched on theater. And theater has arguably been worse affected, as it tends to rely on fewer ways of reaching its public than music. (You can’t call a video of a theater show a theater show – even if you are one of the Cohen brothers directing Shakespeare!) But one of the reasons I have been so quiet on this blog in recent months is because I have been devoting a vast amount of time – and loving it – to three separate theater projects all produced by TAC Teatro over the final months of 2021. And I want here to share the information and the short versions of the videos I did of each of these shows, as I think they show the resistance that theater can develop – should I call it the “antibodies?” – to a pandemic that has otherwise eviscerated much of its usually fertile grounds.

    I have written about TAC Teatro several times in the past, since I have been involved with Ornella Bonventre in one way or another in her theater company since 2017 when it was based in Milan, and then through its move to France the following year. But for me the biggest achievement of the company that I have seen so far has come in recent months with the three projects for which I have made these films. (And I should actually include here the period the members of the company spent doing research in Sicily last summer, but I won’t get into that here, since there is little recorded in video of that period. And also because the work they did subsequently benefitted by the research they did there, as I will mention later.)

    Just a Sunday Brunch Trailer

    Three written shows on three different themes for three different purposes: “Just a Sunday Brunch,” “Respire” and “Ajamola.” But all of them were put together and performed in Aubervilliers, at a theater space that TAC Teatro managed to recuperate in the middle of the pandemic and to save the creation, especially, of the biggest, most ambitious of the pieces above: “Ajamola.” I wrote about “Ajamola” two years ago when we first began creating it, just before the pandemic began, and before it had its current name. And it is the piece that has the most merit as being a monumental creation that made it through the endless battles that the pandemic threw in the company’s way over the last two years.

    But I’m fluttering on. Let me get to the point!! I’ll do it in order of appearance though.

    “Just a Sunday Brunch” for the day of the Patrimony in France

    Just a Sunday Brunch Poster

    Translated as European Heritage Days and created by the French ministry of culture in 1984, the Journée du Patrimoine, in the third weekend of September was a huge success for TAC’s show, which the actors put together in only a few days and as a true announcement of the company’s arrival in Aubervilliers. Meant to highlight and show off the history of places and their artistic heritage, the day was a collaboration amongst many of the different artists of the space where TAC has been working in Aubervilliers, at 164 rue Henri Barbusse, and old warehouse-like space with musicians, sculptors and other artists, and TAC’s theater.

    The TAC show was done with a set that was conceived by one of the sculptors of the space, Taïne Gras. She had created the installation of a feast table for a previous event, but remade it in the theater space, where Ornella and the actors of TAC created their show around it. The resulting show is a brilliantly funny and light piece that combines some elements of visual gags that remind me of the old silent cinema, and with a mixture of TAC’s usual physical theater forms of expression.

    In addition to the theater show, there was a fashion show by a local designer in the courtyard of the place, and another event done by one of the other sculptors. We were blessed, somehow, with great weather, and the weekend was a resounding success, as you can see in the short version of the video that I made of the show.

    From fun and hilarity to “Respire,” a project for the international day against violence to women

    Respire show trailer video

    November 25 is a date well-known by many as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And TAC has done shows pretty much every year in support of this day, in one form or another – see the one at the Pompidou Center a few years ago – so this year, with the space in Aubervilliers, it was a great opportunity to continue the tradition. What was even better this year is that for the first time in France, the company put together its contribution with the backing of a subvention by the local municipality of Aubervilliers.

    Respire Poster

    Respire Poster

    Over a three week period, the company worked with the local community to develop workshops, shows and a documentary film – which I made, and the short version, or trailer, of which I will paste in here – with the purpose of approaching the problem of violence against women in an indirect, let’s say, “non preachy” way.

    Ornella went to the local schools, youth organizations and other public and private groups to get the word out and find actors to take part in the workshops and the final shows. It was no easy matter, given the limited time between having the project approved and the official deadline for completing it, which was the end of the year. Her goal was to complete all workshops, performances and the video by the end of the first week in December, and she succeeded.

    The approach was to create a show that gets across the message of the horror of, and prevention of, violence against women. The main prop that they used, as you will see, is the umbrella, which is a statement of an item that protects, but at the same time isolates, and can be used as a weapon. In the video you will not only see actors from TAC Teatro, but members of the general public with no acting experience, including children, who took part in the workshops and created the show with the actors of TAC, under Ornella’s direction.

    The show was performed both inside the theater space and in the streets of Aubervilliers, as a flash mob event, notably in front of the City Hall and in front of three local schools, where we got some great participation – and feedback – from the students.

    The deliverance of “Ajamola” after more than two years work through a pandemic

    Ajamola show trailer video

    But the crowning achievement of the TAC company really came in the half dozen performances of the show the company had been working on since the fall of 2019. “Ajamola” not only managed to survive, but to thrive through the pandemic, and to take on themes that were inherent to the pandemic, although strangely, some of those themes were part of the show from the beginning before the pandemic even hit! (I refer, for instance, to the so-called “dream constructors” who wear doctors’ white smocks! And how I remember everyone’s surprise and confusion when they first received their smock in Jan/Feb 2020 as to what should be done with the surgical mask that came with each costume! We threw them all away!)

    Ajamola Poster

    Ajamola Poster

    I will not go through the whole show here, but for a nutshell description, check out the description of the show at the end of this blog post and as translated from the French. The play is inspired also by many of Ornella’s connections with her birthplace of Sicily, including the fisherman’s song that gives the play its title, and some other songs and musical bits in the production – which themes the actors imbued themselves with on that aforementioned visit to Sicily last summer.

    In any case, the show had capacity, or near capacity, attendance each time, and as I recorded it through several cameras and a sound device simultaneously during each performance, I not only never grew bored or used to it, but I felt more and more understanding, enthusiasm and respect each time for the work of Ornella Bonventre as director, and the actors Sara Baudry, Julie Lossec, Tato Moya, Constance Dolleans and Marine Lefèvre.

    And I cannot wait until the show returns, with a slight change in lineup, in the months to come. Keep posted!

    Back to a ventriloquial performance for me with TAC Teatro

    By the way, I almost forgot to mention that I was actually an actor and part creator of the show two years ago, but as I became more occupied with other projects – mainly the Formula One book for Assouline – I pulled out. But I have contributed where and when possible, including at the moment I not only made the short trailer you find here, but I am working on a full-length film version of the show, which I filmed at every one of the presentations they have so far done of it.

    Ornella Bonventre, Peter McCabe and Brad Spurgeon

    Ornella Bonventre, Peter McCabe and Brad Spurgeon

    In fact, on that same theme, I must not forget the activity of the company in Asnières-sur-Seine, where Ornella continues to teach lessons to a growing number of actors of every age in her acting school part of the company. Since the pandemic had killed any possibility of the three age groups – children, teenagers and adults – from putting on their season finale shows last June, Ornella decided to work with the students to put on the season final afternoon of three performances at the Petit Theatre in Asnières in November. And she invited me to present the festivities with my ventriloquial figure, Peter McCabe! It was our debut effort as presenters, and I found myself having to write and memorize our script very quickly…with the result, I am told, of my efforts to bring emotions of laughter to the spectators to actually succeeding in bringing strong emotions of sympathy for Peter McCabe, and equally strong emotions of disdain for me, his nasty master! What counted were the strong emotions! I regret also that the audience was apparently so involved in Peter’s performance that not a single spectator thought to take a photograph or video of our performance! So there is nothing to show for it here…. Maybe next time!

    Description of “Ajamola”

    The station of a small village somewhere in the south. The court of a king. Two parallel events that intertwine: that of Alma, Nina, Vera, and Jules waiting for the train and that of the Marquis of the Moon condemned to tell stories to a mad king.
    And above all: The dream builders are watching.
    At the station.
    People from different parts of the world, forced to leave their homeland, meet at the station of a small abandoned village while waiting for the train. An important train that will take them to where they have wanted to go for a long time, where they hope to finally find freedom. Will it arrive?
    During this long wait, friendships are born, the plots of their relationships are woven and the individual stories of each come to life: the fears, joys and emotions of those who have challenged themselves, and so many dangers to freedom.
    In the King’s Court.
    In the power room of the palace of a mad king, the Marquis of the Moon, condemned to tell him new stories, decides to tell him that of the dream builders. This is how the dream builders come to life. They set to work in their laboratory, interacting with the lives of the protagonists who, unaware of everything, are waiting for the train at the station.
    What happens when life changes suddenly and forever?
    What is the force that makes us dream?
    Stories of tenderness and bravery are told through songs, dances, objects that come to life and bring back distant people and memories.

    A Not-Book-Review cum Memoir Cum autobiography etc. of Terence Rigby and his Memoir by Juliet Ace: Rigby Shlept Here

    August 11, 2021
    bradspurgeon

    Rigby Shlept Here

    Rigby Shlept Here

    CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – He was one of the greatest British character actors of the end of the 20th century, early 21st century, one of Harold Pinter’s fetish actors and friend, just as adept starring in television, on stage or in cinema – a late career period with along with Julia Roberts and in Color Me Kubrick…the list of achievements go on and on for Terence Rigby. And I am proud to be able to say that for a few months in 1977 to 1978 we were briefly friends, while I was a bartender at The National Theatre in London, and he was acting in various roles as part of the company. In fact, he helped me audition for RADA, where he had started out 20 years earlier. But if my life completely changed after that, I always carried questions about who exactly was this man Terence Rigby. Many others who knew him asked the same questions. How delighted was I last week to discover a Memoir of Rigby’s life was published in 2014 and written by his good friend, the scriptwriter, Juliet Ace. Called, “Rigby Shlept Here,” it is a magnificent tale of an unusual man and a great actor. I have now written a long review-cum-memoir of my own of this book, and about this man. Follow the link here to my page in my Writers on Writers and Writing section about Terence Rigby and Juliet Ace’s memoir “Rigby Shlept Here.

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